A public hearing starts Monday in Raleigh on Duke Energy's planned acquisition of Piedmont Natural Gas. Approval by the North Carolina Utilities Commission is the deal's final hurdle.
Duke announced last October it was buying Piedmont for $6.7 billion. That includes $4.9 billion in cash and taking over $1.8 billion in Piedmont debt. Piedmont has two things Duke wants:
- 1 million customers in the fast-growing gas business, on its home turf - primarily in North Carolina, and also in South Carolina and Tennessee.
- Plus, a gas pipeline and storage network. Duke has become Piedmont’s largest customer, as it closes older coal plants and shifts to cleaner and cheaper gas.
"We think natural gas, given the current trends and the very low cost we're seeing, will continue to be a predominant fuel as coal continues to fade out," Duke spokesman Tom Williams says.
Shareholders and the Federal Trade Commission have already approved the deal. The companies also have agreed to concessions with the utilities commission's consumer protection arm as well as the Carolina Utility Customers Association and the Environmental Defense Fund.
Those concessions include promises of charitable donations ($17.5 million a year for four years), another $7.5 million for energy assistance programs, and small rate reductions.
The merger has its critics. Environmental group NC WARN calls the pre-hearing settlements "back-room" deals that make the commission little more than a rubber stamp. It's asking for new rules to make the process public.
Greenpeace and other environmental groups will protest outside the hearing Monday. They call the merger a "marriage of monopolies" that will lead to more pipelines and dirty fuels.
The hearing begins at 2:00 p.m. Monday, with testimony by CEOs Lynn Good of Duke and Thomas Skains of Piedmont.
The utilities commission is expected to approve the merger this fall and it could be completed by year’s end.
Find meeting details and merger-related documents on the N.C. Utilities Commission website, NCUC.net.